The Offenbach Hagadah

Isaac Offenbach, the father of the composer Jacques Offenbach, was a cantor in the Jewish community in Cologne for many years. He was a musician, composer, and bookbinder. In 1838, he penned the Haggadah, traditionally written in Hebrew, in German. In doing so, he presented a new adaptation of the scripture that has been read for centuries by Jews all over the world for the Feast of Passover, in memory of the biblical Exodus from Egypt.  

At the beginning of the feast, which lasts several days, the Haggadah is read at a festively decorated table with family and friends. This tells not only about the liberation from slavery in Egypt, the plagues, and the exodus, but also includes prayers, songs, and ritual instructions, so that the Haggadah gives this important evening a fixed order.  

The Offenbach Haggadah pays testimony to the far-reaching developments in German Judaism in the nineteenth century, since Offenbach reacted to these developments with his German edition and the desire to make the text “[…] accessible to a large part of our fellow believers […].” In the introduction to the Haggadah, he explains this intention and also makes a plea for further reforms: “We must therefore work hard to reform not religion, but the guise of it. For religion will forever remain a need of our hearts, a precious legacy of our fathers.” 

A double page from the Offenbach Hagadah. Photo: Tanja Potthoff / MiQua

Timeline Cologne

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